West Brom vs Aston Villa match report: Craig Gardner’s strike sows the seeds of Alan Irvine’s survival

West Bromwich Albion 1 Aston Villa 0: Midfielder’s goal against his former club lifts the pressure on head coach after bad run

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The Independent Football

Exactly 12 months after parting company with Steve Clarke, the Albion hierarchy were spared having to contemplate handing Alan Irvine the same fate when Craig Gardner’s 72nd-minute goal won a West Midlands derby in which Aston Villa had to play three-quarters of the match with 10 men following Keiran Richardson’s 22nd-minute red card.

Former Villa midfielder Gardner lifted the pressure that had been building on Irvine during a run of four defeats in five matches. Had he suffered another loss yesterday, Irvine would have had the same number of points that Clarke had on the board when he was sacked, and from a game more.

Gardner’s first goal of the season spared him embarrassment after he had goaded Villa fans by claiming that Albion are the region’s biggest club, having finished ahead of Villa in the Premier League table for three seasons in a row. The 28-year-old began his career at Villa Park after graduating from the club’s academy and subsequently spent 18 months with Birmingham City, whom he supported as a boy, but his mind was focussed on showing Irvine his support as he celebrated the goal, running to the touchline to high-five the head coach.

 

“My hand is still stinging,” Irvine said afterwards. “I think he is a West Brom fan at this moment in time.  He has been desperate to score.”

Gardner had been expressing his support for Irvine ahead of the match, along with several senior players, and made it clear again that the team do not share the misgivings some Albion fans have had about him since his summer appointment. “I’m delighted because he has taken a bit of flack,” Gardner said.

Irvine had risked further criticism by leaving leading scorer Saido Berahino on the bench, preferring £10 million record signing Brown Ideye in place of the injured Victor Anichebe, but brought the England Under-21 international off the bench to telling effect as Albion pushed for a winning goal in the final quarter of the game.

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Kieran Richardson scythes down Stephane Sessegnon

It was Barahino’s cross that created the chance, initially setting up Stephane Sessegnon for a shot that was blocked by Brad Guzan.

The rebound ran straight to Gardner, whose follow-up was drilled into the corner of the net to the palpable relief of the home crowd – and Irvine too.

Villa had enjoyed most of the first half possession, even after Richardson’s ill-timed lunge on Sessegnon had earned him a straight red card for going in studs up.

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Kieran Richardson is shown a red card after a tackle on Stephane Sessegnon

Yet the best chances fell to Albion, with Guzan beating away Sebastien Pocognoli’s shot after Graham Dorrans had set up the Belgian defender with a clever first-time pass, and again coming to his side’s aid after 40 minutes when Pocognoli’s cutback found Sessegnon.

Pocognoli went close too with an attempted chip after Guzan had been drawn away from his line in dealing with a corner.

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Gareth McAuley tackles Gabriel Agbonlahor

Villa manager Paul Lambert waited until half-time to shore up his central midfield, taking out Charles N’Zogbia in favour of Fabian Delph, who was available for the first time in more than two months after surgery on an injured shoulder.

His side survived some sustained pressure early in the second half, and might have fancied themselves for a point that would have stretched their current form to six matches unbeaten until Gardner struck.

“It never really looked like 11 against 10 for most of the game,” he said. “Our possession and forward movement were excellent.”

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Craig Gardner finally breaks the deadlock to put the Baggies ahead of 10-man Villa

Lambert shot down renewed stories that a training ground bust-up had been behind former assistant Roy Keane’s abrupt departure from the club. “I find it quite bizarre,” he said. “I’ve already said there were no issues with Roy. He got on well with all the players. To me it is absolute nonsense.”

Line-ups:

West Bromwich Albion: (4-2-3-1) Foster; Wisdom, McAuley, Lescott, Pocognoli; Morrison, Dorrans (Berahino, 70); Sessegnon, Gardner, Varela; Ideye.

Aston Villa: (4-3-3) Guzan; Hutton, Okore, Clark, Cissokho (Weimann, 78); Cleverley, Sanchez (Vlaar, 78), Richardson; N’Zogbia (Delph, 45), Benteke, Agbonlahor.

Referee: Mike Dean

Man of the match: Pocognoli (West Brom)

Match rating: 7/10

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